Nutrition 101: Vitamin E

Vitamin E

(HealthCastle.com) Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of compounds with specific antioxidant properties. Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol and alpha-tocopherol, is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that extra amounts you consume are stored in your liver.

Recomme​nded Intakes

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for Vitamin E are shown below:

Age Group Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per Day Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) per Day
Adults    
19 years and up 15 mg 1,000 mg
Kids and Youth    
1 to 3 years 6 mg 200 mg
4 to 8 years 7 mg 300 mg
9 to 13 years 11 mg 600 mg
14 to 18 years 15 mg 800 mg
Special Considerations    
Pregnant women 14 to 18 years 15 mg 800 mg
Pregnant women 19 years and up 15 mg 1,000 mg
Lactating women 14 to 18 years 19 mg 800 mg
Lactating women 19 years and up 19 mg 1,000 mg

What Does​ Vitamin E Do?

Vitamin E plays a major role as an antioxidant by protecting cells from damage by free radicals. It does this by working together with a group of nutrients that prevent oxygen molecules from becoming too reactive and damaging cells. This group of nutrients includes Vitamin C, glutathione, selenium, and niacin. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E may help prevent cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. This is a topic that is still being studied, and more research needs to be done.

Vitamin E also plays a very important role in contributing to healthy skin. It  directly protects the skin from ultraviolet radiation (also called UV light) when topically rubbed on the skin (for example, in aloe vera gel). Additionally, Vitamin E–rich foods in the diet travel to the skin cell membranes and exert this same protective effect.

Vitamin E also contributes to immune function and DNA repair. Vitamin E helps to boost the immune system so that it can fight off invading bacteria and viruses. It also helps to widen blood vessels and keeps blood from clotting.

Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy people because Vitamin E is found in many commonly consumed food sources. Vitamin E needs some fat for the digestive system to absorb it, and therefore deficiency is almost always linked to certain diseases where fat is not properly digested or absorbed, including Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases. Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage throughout the body and a weakened immune system.

In supplement form, high doses of Vitamin E might increase the risk of bleeding (by reducing the blood's ability to form clots after a cut or injury) and of serious bleeding in the brain (known as hemorrhagic stroke). It is rare to experience Vitamin E toxicity from foods.

Top Vitamin E – Rich Foods

Vitamin E is found mainly in foods that contain fat, such as margarine, vegetable oil, wheat germ, nuts, nut butters, and seeds. Whole grains, fortified cereals, and green leafy vegetables also contain Vitamin E.

Exposure to air and factory processing can be particularly damaging to the Vitamin E content of foods. To help protect their Vitamin E content, vegetable oils should be kept in tightly capped containers to avoid unnecessary exposure to air.

Food Vitamin E per serving
Sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup 12.3 mg
Almonds, 1/4 cup 9.2 mg
Almond butter, 2 tbsp 7.8 mg
Wheat germ oil, 1 tsp 6.7 mg
Hazelnuts, 1/4 cup 5.1 mg
Cereal, wheat germ, toasted, 1/4 cup 4.5 mg
Pine nuts, 1/4 cup 3.2 mg
Peanuts, 1/4 cup 3.0 mg
Spinach, cooked, 1/2 cup 1.9 mg
Sunflower oil, 1 tsp 1.9 mg
Tomato sauce, canned, 1/2 cup 1.7 mg
Swiss chard, cooked, 1/2 cup 1.7 mg
Turnip greens, cooked, 1/2 cup 1.4 mg

Nutrition Facts Label and the % Daily Value

In the United States: The daily value (DV) for Vitamin E is approximately 20 mg, which is higher than the DRI for adults. The number you see on the Nutrition Facts label is a percentage calculated by dividing the amount of Vitamin E in one serving of the food by the DV. Using an example from the above chart, 2 tbsp of almond butter, which contains 7.8 mg of Vitamin E, would have 39% of the DV for Vitamin E. The FDA does not require food labels to list Vitamin E content unless a food has been fortified with this nutrient. 

In Canada: The daily value for Vitamin E in Canada is 10 mg, which is lower than the DRI for adults. Using the same example as above, 2 tbsp of almond butter would have 78% of the DV for Vitamin E.

Nutrient Interactions

Vitamin C, niacin, selenium: These three nutrients are required to keep Vitamin E in its metabolically active form. A diet high in Vitamin E cannot have its optimal effect unless it is also rich in foods that provide these other nutrients.

Vitamin K: At high levels (1,000 milligrams or more), Vitamin E can interfere with Vitamin K metabolism.

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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.